Framing: the Choice of Words to Guide the Interpretation of Information

Every time he started writing, Flaubert had an obsession: search for the “mot juste“, the exact word. According to the author of Madame Bovary,

“It was the precision in the choice of words the distinguishing mark of a great writer.”

The accuracy of a phrase can be determined in whether it transmits the desired information or not. Imagine that before a diagnosis of cancer, they want to inform us about the possibility of recovering or not after surgery. The doctor can formulate it in two ways:

Do not worry….

a) 90% of patients survive.

b) only 10% of patients die.

Objectively, both transmit the same information, they have the same meaning. They are interchangeable. However, what option would you find most reassuring?

Surely, the preferred option is a). What is this about? Words, by themselves or when combined, do not live in a sealed semantic compartment. They evoke conceptual associations, constructed through the social and personal experience that frame the semantic coordinates in which the information will be interpreted. It is what is known as framing. In this way, if we listen to the phrase a), ideas related to recovery, life, success will come to us. On the other hand, if we listen to b), ideas of failure and death will come to mind.

Precision is also the hallmark of an advertising campaign. In a field where every second or centimetre of space is -quite a huge amount of money, the choice of each word is very precise. Communication agencies and departments have copywriters, authentic snipers of the word. They study in depth the brand and the product, the public and its environment, habits, desires. Then they choose the position and calibrate their words. Its objective is to frame so that it fits with target and orientates the interpretation of information.

Some time ago, the choice of words to frame a message was fundamentally artisan. The success in the work depended in good part on the intuition and experience of the professional. However, today, advances in psychology and neuroscience have given guidelines and opened doors for scientific studies of conceptual universes. IRT Tests (Implicit Reaction Time) are the most favorable instruments, however other techniques such as EEG or fMRI can be used as well.